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Midnight Oil frontman says Sony Music HQ should “take responsibility for their governance failures” regarding toxic corporate culture at its Australian division

By | Published on Friday 29 October 2021

Sony Music

The frontman of Midnight Oil has spoken about the recent exposĂ© on the toxic corporate culture at Sony Music Australia, his band having worked with the Australian division of the major since 1981. He said the band backed the current and former employees who have spoken out, while calling on Sony Music’s global HQ in New York to “take responsibility for their governance failures”.

The toxic corporate culture that existed under former long-term Sony Music Australia chief Denis Handlin has been the subject of various media investigations in recent months, following his sudden axing from the top job in June. Although it was initially The Guardian who put the spotlight on the issues at Sony Music in Australia, a report on Australian current affairs show ‘Four Corners’ earlier this month ramped things up somewhat.

In the wake of the broadcast of that programme, various music industry organisations that had in the past presented honorary awards to Handlin – including Qmusic, ARIA and APRA/AMCOS – revoked those prizes. Meanwhile, pressure continues to build on Sony Music HQ, given that the issues with Handlin’s leadership were widely known within the Australian music industry, and formal complaints had been made as far back as the 1990s.

Musician, activist and former Australian politician Peter Garrett has had a long association with Sony. Midnight Oil was signed to the major from 1981 until their initial split in 2002. The company also released his solo album ‘A Version Of Now’ in 2016 and Midnight Oil’s first record following a 2016 reunion, last year’s chart topping ‘The Makarrata Project’.

Asked about the ‘Four Corners’ report in a new interview with The Australian, Garrett said he’d never experienced the toxicity at the major first hand, but that the way the company had been run was “inexcusable”.

He told the newspaper: “We were never mistreated by anyone at Sony and we didn’t see any of that behaviour. It goes without saying that we oppose bullying – any form, anywhere. So for those company staff that have spoken up – and whether they’re people that were there before or those [working for the major] at the moment – we would strongly support them”.

“We would say pretty clearly that the behaviour was inexcusable”, he added, “and that Sony New York needs to step up. They were aware, it turns out, of what was happening. They need to support their staff, but also they need to do something serious. I think they’ve got some sort of investigation underway, but they need to take responsibility for their governance failures”.

Sony Music HQ has issued a handful of statements since Handlin’s departure, mainly insisting that the current top guard there were not personally aware of the issues at their Australian business until earlier this year.

Following the ‘Four Corners’ programme, it told reporters: “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behaviour from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously. Only recently did claims surface and we are examining them expeditiously”.

As for a previous investigation into Handlin’s management style back in the 1990s, it added: “We are not in a position to comment further on allegations concerning matters which occurred over 20 years ago particularly given that the persons involved at that time are no longer at the company. To the extent these matters have been raised, Sony Music has been reviewing them”.